What would you do if your forever was a single day? In most films about time-loops, we watch characters struggle to escape repetition and eventually find a hole in the plot allowing them to slip back into their regular lives. In “The Map of Tiny Perfect Things,” directed by Ian Samuels, this idea pivots by changing the motivations of the two teens stuck in the loop. They grapple with the fear of not knowing whether they’re the ones awake as everyone around them sleepwalks through life, or if they’re the ones who’ve been dreaming while the world around them moves along. Cleverly written with heartfelt characters, this might not be a total restructure of a familiar story but it’s fresh enough with just enough of a spark to allow us to become distracted, if not enchanted, by the film’s youthful ‘you can do anything’ attitude it sets forth.
“The Map of Tiny Perfect Things” plunges us into its world with lead character Mark (Kyle Allen), who is well into his routine of waking up to the same day over and over again. This monotony is broken up by the arrival of Morgan (Kathryn Newton), a girl who disrupts what he’s come to expect and allows him to realize that he might not be the only one stuck in this cycle. In their effort to get ahead of cheap comparisons to films such as “Groundhog Day,” or, even more recently, last year’s “Palm Springs,” writer Lev Grossman (who adapted his own short story to screen) lays every comparison out there. There’s an understanding in this universe that the characters are so indoctrinated by pop-culture that they’d be able to draw from media such as the aforementioned “Groundhog Day,” “Time Bandits,” “Doctor Who” or “The Edge of Tomorrow” to express the purview of their understanding in order to justify the new bizarre logic to their everyday lives.
Initially, there’s an eye rolling effect to such a twee take on a story we’ve seen before – this time directed at the YA crowd. Certainly meant to be a lighthearted variant on the subgenre, Mark is just initially too jovial for someone who, by his own account, may have lived this day near to 1000 times already. Perhaps it’s cynical to believe so, but it’s how well adjusted Mark is to the situation that rings with the greatest air of fantasy, as this type of situation would typically encourage wallowing in existential despair for most people. That said, the reflex instinct it inspires at first glance with its all too wholesome, self-professed nerd but with leading man stature is soon weathered down by the innate sweetness of the film and charisma of both Allen and Newton.
As the two try to collect every perfect moment that happens in their endless day in their small town, what could have easily been the most frustratingly artificial component of “The Map of Tiny Perfect Things” ends up being its most effective. The montage captures these small moments of grace and companionship, of an elderly man’s impossibly wide grin as he’s charm, of a four leaf clover in a sea of green, a flash of hidden brilliance and nature at it’s finest with such tangible and earnest heart that the effectiveness strikes with surprising accuracy. That, or those in between scenes shared with friends, families and strangers are more easily embraced now. As the crux of the film’s plot, beyond the two’s burgeoning relationship, there’s a sweet simplicity to their initial goal. By looking for moments that create joy or wonder, they’re giving themselves purpose so all of this time allowed to them doesn’t feel wasted.
The film further subverts expectations by allowing Morgan’s character greater depth and reasoning behind why she might not want to break the loop and why, to her, the pause on her life has been a gift. For her, the idea of time in the film is about how much more it allows. It’s one of the more interesting aspects of either character who, despite the likability and shared chemistry between leads, are still too thinly drawn to find a lasting attachment to. The artifact of the film is most evident in them with their varying senses of style, unnatural dialogue and skill sets that move them from being relatable.
With cinematography by Andrew Wehde, the film takes great lengths to cast a delicate glow – not unlike that of a really flattering filter – so that it’s given a purposeful dreamlike quality, especially when it’s just Mark and Morgan and, most noticeably, on their first attempts to find those perfect moments. It’s unflinchingly romantic and what it lacks in the substance of character it makes up for in its knowing tone and ability to subvert certain expectations. It’s doubtful you’ll be shocked by any major event in the film, but it’s the ability of “The Map of Tiny Perfect Things” to surprise you with the emotional resonance that ends up being its biggest strength. [B]